Andres Bienrico Bisenio
April 15 at 8:31 AM
𝙏𝙝𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙥𝙧𝙞𝙫𝙞𝙡𝙚𝙜𝙚
To mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the world health organization (WHO) has recommended frequent hand-washing and respiratory hygiene alongside physical distancing of at least one meter between any two persons.¹ As simple as these may seem, it is noteworthy that these are almost impossible to be attained by those who do not have the privilege to ample food and water supply.
As the global pandemic continues to intensify, with almost two million infected worldwide,² the need for mass testing, apt isolation, and competent governance and relief efforts; precise solutions for concrete problems becomes more and more urgent—with priority given to those who are most vulnerable.³
A report from the International Committee of the Red Cross indicates that as of March 2020, the occupied capacity of the 467 jails in the Philippines tallies to be at 534 percent.⁴ This number shows that jails are heavily congested. Because of the overcrowding alone, several thousands of inmates die every year.⁵
Although overcrowding already deals a heavy blow to the integrity of the welfare of prisoners, the lack of rationing worsens the situation. A 2018 senate probe on a correctional institute has revealed that only a fraction of the food budget per prisoner has been spent; 39 pesos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “𝘒𝘢𝘺𝘢 𝘯𝘢𝘮𝘢𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘢𝘺 𝘢𝘯𝘨 𝘮𝘨𝘢 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘰 𝘥𝘢𝘩𝘪𝘭 𝘸𝘢𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘨 𝘣𝘪𝘵𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘨 𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘬𝘢𝘪𝘯.” ⁶
To fill the gap in provisions by prison facilities, visitors are left obliged to care for their imprisoned family or friends by regularly providing proper and healthy food and medications.⁷
With the alarming percentage of overcrowding and the lack of proper rations and means for hygiene in detention facilities, inmates are exposed to high risks amid the virus outbreak.
𝘾𝙖𝙡𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖 𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙢
A city jail has implemented a ‘band-aid’ solution of having inmates stay in open spaces within the jail compound.⁸
While this may promote physical distancing, the danger of exposure to the virus remains the same as long as the prisoners remain cramped in overcrowded facilities.
To avoid such risk, advocacy groups such as Prisoners’ Enhancement and Support Organization (PRESO) and human rights alliance Karapatan are calling for the release of sick, elderly and other low-risk inmates.⁹
𝙂𝙪𝙞𝙡𝙩𝙮 𝙤𝙛 𝙞𝙣𝙣𝙤𝙘𝙚𝙣𝙘𝙚
More than 500 of the aforementioned inmates exposed to peril are political prisoners – people who are imprisoned for their political beliefs and activities instead of actual, punishable crimes.
They end up in jail under trumped-up (false) charges of serious crimes often linked to terrorism—when in reality, most of these people are peace advocates and peace consultants who were vanguards of mobilizing the voice of the Filipino masses.¹⁰
One of them is my grandfather, Rey Claro Casambre, who was apprehended during the midnight after my 16th birthday celebration. He was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and two counts of attempted murder – which apparently took place in Lupon, Davao del Norte. (he was actually in Metro Manila when the apparent attempts at murder happened)
As my mother Xandra wrote, lolo Rey, as well as his fellow political detainees, do not belong in prison. For the aged and unwell, an immediate release and de-congestion of prison facilities would tantamount to being spared from a life-threatening coronavirus outbreak behind bars.⁷
The Supreme Court will have its meeting today. As we hope for a decision in favor of the petition for the immediate release of the sick and elderly, the everlasting call for unity, justice, and peace goes on.